ATP Rome: Rafael Nadal battles past valiant Jannik Sinner for a winning start

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ATP Rome: Rafael Nadal battles past valiant Jannik Sinner for a winning start

When the draw came out, Rafael Nadal knew that he would have to work hard right from the opening match at Foro Italico. The nine-time Rome Open champion faced the fellow top-20 player Jannik Sinner, battling past the young Italian 7-5, 6-4 in two hours and ten minutes for his 394th Masters 1000 victory.

Sinner threw everything he had at Rafa, but it wasn't enough at least for a set, despite a break advantage in both sets. Nadal didn't play at his best in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, winning one of those three events and suffering the quarter-final defeats to Andrey Rublev and Alexander Zverev.

The Spaniard stayed under ten winners against the German last week in Madrid, determined to fix that in Rome and play more aggressive and dynamic tennis. Rafa finished the clash with 25 winners and 21 unforced errors, firing 19 direct points from his forehand and looking good on the court despite three breaks he suffered.

Jannik was miles from his best tonight, unable to penetrate Rafa and facing 15 break points, allowing the Spaniard to seize five and seal the deal in straight sets. Nadal had the upper hand in the shortest and more extended rallies, not allowing his opponent to dictate the rallies and leaving the court happy with how he performed.

Rafael Nadal ousted Jannik Sinner after a great battle in Rome.

The opening set lasted for 70 minutes, and it brought five breaks, three for Rafa, who claimed it 7-5 for a massive boost. Jannik made a powerful start and grabbed a break in the first game with a forehand down the line winner.

Nadal responded with a forehand winner in game two to pull the break back and avoid an early setback. The Italian secured another break at 2-2 with a volley winner before spraying a forehand mistake a few minutes later to bring Rafa back to 3-3.

Serving at 4-5, Sinner fended off three straight set points and brought the game home with a service winner for a massive boost. Pushing hard on the return, Rafa finally converted the seventh set point at 6-5 to wrap up the opener after a gigantic battle.

Sinner made a fresh start in set number two, serving well and delivering a break in game three to forge a 4-2 advantage. Staying calm, Nadal held at 15 in game seven and grabbed four straight points on the return in the next one to force Jannik's error and lock the result at 4-4.

Returning at 5-4, Rafa seized the fourth match point with a forehand down the line winner to seal the deal and celebrate a significant victory.